EDITORIAL – Straightening out Sunday liquor sales: That is the spirit

Last Friday marked the end of one of the more, let’s say, “interesting” chapters in Grand Cayman’s regulatory history, as the Liquor Licensing Board gave the official green light to 12 businesses seeking to sell alcohol on Sundays.

By all appearances, the board led by Chairman Noel Williams acted deliberately and in a way that is transparent with the public, consistent with the law, and fair to all parties. Given the board’s behavior under previous leadership, it is with some sense of relief that we are able to tick off those three basic administrative checkboxes.

Mr. Williams said that a thorough legal review concluded there was no legal reason to deny businesses that hold package licenses the right also to sell alcohol on Sundays. He said it also determined that the liquor board could place conditions on those licenses, including hours of operation and banning on-premises consumption – which it has.

Henceforth, the successful applicants (and any future ones), will be able to sell alcohol to customers from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays, providing they prohibit on-site consumption and meet the other conditions of the retail license.

“We had to make it a level playing field for all,” Mr. Williams said.

Contrast that with the misbehavior of the previous board (then chaired by Woody DaCosta), which, last spring approved – then, with a few ex post facto pen strokes, attempted to “de-approve” – a license allowing the Peanuts convenience store at Red Bay gas station to sell beer, wine and spirits to customers seven days a week.

That debacle was a case study in how not to conduct public affairs, with cameo roles by the Cayman Ministers’ Association and then-Governor Helen Kilpatrick. The sordid affair bred mistrust and questions about favoritism and influence (along with intensive public scrutiny, extensive coverage by the Compass and an internal audit investigation), and directly led to the replacement of ex-Chairman DaCosta with Chairman Williams.

It appears that the new chairman has brought a much-needed sense of law and order to the board’s deliberations, and by extension the competitive landscape of Cayman’s liquor industry.

For the record, the Compass never took a position on the question of whether businesses should be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays. What we have stood for, and will continue to advocate for, is that the Liquor Licensing Board – and all governmental bodies – operate in a transparent, impartial and consistent manner. In other words, what’s good for Peanuts is also good for Tortuga, Reflections, Blackbeard’s and a multiplicity of others.

When it comes to liquor licensing, Cayman’s patchwork scheme of ad hoc regulations, “grandfathered” exceptions and individualized permissions should be swept away and replaced by rational, universal standards for any and all applicants.

P.S.: Also on legislators’ to-do list is a comprehensive review of Cayman’s (even more archaic) Music and Dancing Law. We trust such a review will result in a revision of the law to address the problems that occur (and recur) when celebratory holidays, most notably New Year’s Day, happen to fall on Sundays.

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